Cover screen for These Waves of Girls by Caitlin Fisher

Week 4: Playing Subjects: Interactive Literature and Games

Screenshot from Lim by Merritt Kopas


Haraway, Donna. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, technology, and socialist feminism in the 1980s.” Australian Feminist Studies 2.4 (1987): 1-42.

Chess, Shira, and Adrienne Shaw. “A conspiracy of fishes, or, how we learned to stop worrying about# GamerGate and embrace hegemonic masculinity.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 59.1 (2015): 208-220.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Flickering connectivities in Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl: The importance of media-specific analysis.” Postmodern Culture 10.2 (2000). Available through Project Muse (Library). Reprinted in My Mother Was a Computer.

McClintock, Laura. “Serious games & GamerGate: The myth of an online egalitarian utopia.” Refereed Proceedings of TASA 2015 Conference. 2015.


Project Rebuild. Sachiko Murikami.

These Waves of Girls. Caitlin Fisher.

“Shelley Jackson’s Traversal of Patchwork Girl.” In Pathfinders. Ed. Dene Grigar and Stuart Moulthrop. Scalar book.

Recommended Reading (optional):

Consalvo, M. Confronting Toxic Gamer Culture: A Challenge for Feminist Game Studies Scholars. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. No. 1 (2012).


15 thoughts on “Week 4: Playing Subjects: Interactive Literature and Games

  1. I was really interested in N. Katherine Hayles’ essay about Patchwork Girl. I couldn’t read Patchwork Girl myself, as it seems that the University of Waterloo library is the only one in the area that has a copy of it (on disc or something I assume), but I’m really intrigued by what Hayles had to say about it and digital literature in general. Unfortunately, without that example I had a bit of a hard time envisioning what hypertext literature is—are the twine stories we looked at in week one hypertext literature? Does anyone know what other sorts of things would be good examples?

    Hayles did mention “choices the user makes to progress through the hypertext,” which made me wonder if the increasingly popular sort-of-game-sort-of-literature genre of visual novels would count. Visual novels tend to be more linear than the sort of thing I think of when I think about hypertext—there’s a defined beginning and ending(s). But many of them have several choices the reader can make which will lead to different scenes and endings, or even to entirely separate branches of the narrative that might not have very much in common with each other. Here’s a link to an example that I enjoy and that’s free and fairly short, in case anyone doesn’t know what I’m talking about:

    Games like Life is Strange, which I also really enjoyed and would recommend (I played it all a while ago), are kind of similar to visual novels in that they’re played on the computer (or game console) but focus more on telling a story which the player can influence than on any other kind of gameplay. But I think they still tend to suffer a bit from the limitations of current technology. I’ve heard people criticize Life is Strange and other similar games, such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead, for only giving the illusion of choice when the story still goes pretty much the same way with only small differences, and I think that’s partially because of the extreme amount of extra art and programming and other things that would be necessary to have major branches in the story. Visual novels don’t have that problem because the art and programming are a lot simpler—they mostly just have character sprites with a few different facial expressions on varying backgrounds, and text. While we’re looking at more digital literature such as Patchwork Girl, I think it’s important to consider not only the unique qualities that digital presentation can give to a story, but also the limitations they can place on it, and how those limitations could be overcome in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stephanie, I don’t think you could play Patchwork Girl on any system you have, even if they would let it out of the Rare Books collection at Waterloo. But you can get a sense of it from Dene Grigar and Stuart Moulthrop’s Scalar archive of it, which is also on the reading list. I’d suggest exploring that to get more of a sense of what Hayles is discussing.


    2. Hey Stephanie!

      Thought I would chime in to give my two cents on this ‘hypertext’ question that you had. I would say that our Twine stories are perfect examples of what a hypertext is. There is that reading process that doesn’t seem as linear or restricted in comparison to reading a novel, for instance, from beginning to end, left page to right page. I encourage anyone to challenge me on this or to modify my definition, but I thought of hypertexts as computer-based texts that consist of hyperlinks (hence hypertext) that would direct you to another page or section with additional text (this can be either from the same source or direct you to a different website or source altogether). Not sure if this helps you, but that’s my version of the definition. I found an example of a hypertext adventure game (that also happens to be made on Twine!) to give you an example of what I mean (but also to provide a fun example):

      Liked by 2 people

  2. A Conspiracy of Fishes, or, “Feminist academics are trying to take away sexy Lara Croft!!”

    Wow, I don’t know if I have ever written so many salty notes in the margins of an article. Ha! Firstly, I was annoyed that Chess and Shaw even had to write the disclaimer on the first page, claiming “we do not mean to imply that all men working in the game industry or who are involved in gaming culture are personally guided by sexism…” (208). It is as if they know that even writing this article provides 4chan and similar with nothing but more “evidence” for their harassment. Subtext—#NotAllMen.

    I’m so intrigued by how we might “address and understand conspiracy theories as a mode of communicative practice” (209). This was a surprising turn for this paper to take, and I’m glad Chess and Shaw went there. The inclusion of a thoughtful discussion around the environment at play which might foster conspiracy theorists balanced out the lines where you could hear them chuckling in shock and disbelief at the comments left about them and their work on online forums. The inclusion of harassing comments left on message boards in their poor syntactical and grammatical form was perhaps a strategic move to illustrate the unintelligible and absurd nature of the content. Chess & Shaw’s wish for a conference Google Doc to become a “living document” was really granted in a way I’m sure no one in attendance could have predicted.

    The implication “that one cannot be both academic and feminist” (213) is asserted not only by the YouTube video “A Conspiracy Within Gaming,” but leads to a space for self-reflection for the authors themselves on their place and value in the academy as a whole. The assumed social standing of academia is what Chess & Shaw perceive in their analysis as threatening to hegemonic gamer culture (214). I love how they conclude a few things about themselves, their interests, and the wider contexts of their work. Namely, that “conspiracy theory [is] a paranoid form of interpretation,” which taps into histories of “treating feminist scholarship as unscientific, ideological, and frivolous” (215). They note how the academy as a whole is working within “its own model of hegemonic masculinity” (218), and ultimately recognize the need for a more “accessible and public intellectualism” (217). This is relevant to my ongoing interest in “citizen scholarship,” which I talked about in my keyword assignment.

    [on a non-academic but nevertheless amusing note about masculinist harassment online, here’s a link to Lily Allen’s “URL Badman,” which was running through my head as I wrote this:

    A lyric sample: “I don’t like you, I think you’re worthless / I wrote a long piece about it up on my WordPress”]

    Liked by 2 people

    1. McClintock’s Myth of an Online Egalitarian Utopia

      I’m interested in paying close attention to McClintock’s assertion that “dominant, aggressive male privilege manifests online, while simultaneously providing women the space to exercise agency and collectively resist” (1). I’m not sure if I could quite call myself an online social activist, but I do participate in online spaces that talk about disability justice. Twitter is my most used platform for these things. A couple years ago, there was a hashtag going around, #TheAbleistScript, about things that non-disabled people might assume to be normative or ‘inspirational’, but are actually harmful to the lived experience and representation of disabled people. I have cerebral palsy, and felt comfortable sharing some of my own observations. My most-retweeted post read something like “POPULAR BOY TAKES GIRL IN WHEELCHAIR TO PROM. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WILL MAKE YOU CRY!!! #TheAbleistScript” (referring to a certain genre of clickbait-y video where a “kind, popular” teen takes a marginalized peer—often physically disabled, autistic, etc) to a social event out of some sort of misplaced charity.

      The responses I got were in line with McClintock’s analysis. Many women thanked me for calling attention to the dehumanization in this ‘viral video’ phenomenon, and/or retweeted and added their own voices in productive ways. On the contrary, many men replied to me with abandon (I’m paraphrasing, but one of the replies read something like “I’m into this but only if it’s porn”). Another one of my tweets called attention to the ableism and sexism inherent in requiring women to wear high-heeled shoes as part of a work uniform. Men told me this was simply “a part of looking professional.” McClintock’s illustration of “agency theory” (2) is useful to me when thinking about these online interactions and how to negotiate the lack of accountability attached to harassers.

      Lastly (and tangentially), I wonder about this statement:

      “Bodle (2013) argues that anonymity and pseudonymity encourage honesty, which can be a positive attribute of online communication. At the same time this suggests that online harassment and abuse is an honest representation of peoples’ motives and feelings” (3).

      I wonder to what degree honesty online is a gendered trait, or manifests in a gendered way? Like, are men online are more apt to say something akin to “I’m just being honest…” as an excuse for harassment or stereotyping? In contrast (from what I’ve observed), women’s honesty online presents itself more along the lines of sharing personal feelings on a blog or social media account. Perhaps this is a space for participation in a fandom that they don’t express offline. For example, one of my friends has a brilliant—private!—Tumblr account where she posts feminist memes alongside One Direction adorations. Her version of ‘honesty’ fosters a space for sharing common interests alongside social justice concerns.

      I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on any of the above! 🙂


      1. Thank you for sharing connections to your own experiences! These different enactments of “honesty” between genders reminded me of a remark in Hayles’ paper where she discusses differences between the relationships between Victor Frankenstein and his monster, and Shelley and her monster: “Mary feels attraction and sympathy rather than horror and denial…she also feels compassionate and even erotic attraction to her creation. Whereas Victor can see his monster only as a competitor whose strength and agility are understood as threats, Mary exults in the female monster’s physical strength, connecting it with the creature’s freedom from the stifling conventions of proper womanhood” (10).

        I mean, creating monsters is a far reach from the situations you’re describing in engaging with people on social media, but I do wonder if it could be tied to the (violent) competition imposed on men by patriarchal expectations of gender roles – i.e. toxic masculinity? Whereas women are expected to behave in a nurturing manner? I wouldn’t doubt the protection offered by anonymity inspires those with inferiority complexes to attempt to assert their dominance over others in horrible ways. Hayles also notes the familiar narrative of women being confined to their bodies while men are able to transcend embodiment and exist in their faculties instead – hence a lack of understanding regarding things like wearing high-heels? This is definitely not an excuse, just a speculation.
        I’m really sorry you’ve had your criticisms of ableism reduced to objectification/sexualized terms by harassers 😦


      2. That’s a really important question about honesty, Kayla–which is as constructed as any other rhetorical stance, but like “experience” masquerades as unfiltered or unconstructed.


  3. My thoughts on Hayles’ article: Reading Stephanie’s comment reminded me of a part of this essay that grabbed my attention when I read it over a first time. This idea of us, as an audience and readers, as cyborgs when we read hypertext (I love how my concept of cyborgs is being continuously challenged through the various texts that we’ve been reading over the past few weeks). The chronology and organization of hypertexts are more fine and less linear than we may be used to in a novel or print form (ie. reading from a left to right orientation and/or reading from beginning to end) and this is what generates an opportunity for us to become cyborgs and engage in “cyborg subjectivity” (refer to section 13 in Hayles’ article). The constant switch from one space to another, body of text to another body of text, and choice in direction with the assistance of numerous hyperlinks that are scattered throughout the screen produces this subjectivity. It encourages us to be “spliced into an integrated circuit with one or more intelligent machines”. I especially felt this particular feeling when I was creating my Twine essay over this past weekend (and I do mention this in my coda as well) but simultaneously writing and coding at the same time was an interesting experience. I felt that my brain had to constantly switch gears, I find that writing is more relaxing and open to error that can be easily fixed with the guidance of a software (such as Microsoft Word) pointing out those spelling or grammatical errors for me. Coding is a completely different story and I find that I tend to write slower and become more observant and focused because if one tag (ie. ) is missing then the whole script falls apart. I had to constantly test my story line and switch windows from raw text to the story view that the audience would see in order to create the vision that I had in mind for my keyword. But I understand what Hayles means by this cyborg-ness, my brain could easily transition between the distinct environments despite them being different areas of knowledge.

    My thoughts on McClintock’s article (with assistance by Chess & Shaw’s article): There were so many questions that ran through my head while reading this article, especially in regards to the whole GamerGate issue. Why was there so much violence targeted at a woman who just wanted more representation of women in video games? Is it really so bad that we’re in them as main characters or for something other than for sexual appeal? I just couldn’t grasp the meaning behind the actions of those who sent death threats and insults towards Zoe Quinn. Chess and Shaw bring up a thought that didn’t occur to me when I read McClintock (just before reading their article) which was to “look at gaming culture as a somewhat marginalized group” therefore “a perceived threat opens a venue for those who feel their culture has been misunderstood – regardless of whether they are the oppressors or the ones being oppressed”. So female characters (especially those who can be protagonists) threaten this space that was originally created with just men in mind. But this reminds me of other topics and spaces that were met with a lot of resistance to minority groups before it gradually became accepted and normalized in that particular space. I have played a variety of video games in my life (thanks to the influences of my older brother) and the men that I play these games with never showed me any hostility or discouragement, in fact I’ve only ever experienced the opposite (perhaps this contributes to my ignorance on the whole GamerGate issue). I have also noticed that a lot of the male gamers I know enjoy gender swapping and experimenting with identity in a space that was mostly familiar to them solely with a male lens. I hope that one day the gamer population will have this view and be more open to the video gaming world as being more inclusive rather than what it originally may have started out to be, a “man’s world”.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I find it interesting (and almost painful) that every time I read Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” I re-experience her text’s resistance to interpretation. Each passage seemingly contains a different idea or “problem” to be explored. Not only that, but her writing becomes poetic in its “literariness” which only further complicates interpretation. I’ve written numerous essays citing Haraway as evidence to reinforce my argument(s) and still, with each reading I’m left wondering – do I understand what she’s getting at?

    In the context of the current political climate, I’m drawn to the narrative of unity this time – “the need for unity of people trying to resist worldwide intensification of domination” (295) which is something I feel is developing in the public’s resistance towards the rise of the current populist movement. With respect to possibility, Haraway states that “a cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines…permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (295). In order for this blurring of boundaries to be successful, it requires a multiplicity of perspectives. No one individual can ascribe to being “purely” anything. Each individual, like each cyborg, contains multiple identities, fractured identities that require a plurality of perspectives in order to engage with our surrounding environments (geo/political/social/cyber etc.) that are, ultimately, characterized by hybridity.

    My thinking is particularly partial to holism, and I have a hard time getting behind her statement that “Cyborg feminists have to argue that ‘we’ do not want any more natural matrix of unity and that no construction is whole” (297). While I feel I (maybe) understand the intention of this proposal, I believe it could be more detrimental than helpful. I’m not proposing a holistic view which requires homogeny, but rather one which is accepting of diversity as a tenant of its holism (I think here of Boventura de Sousa Santos’ theory of ecologies of knowledges). In my mind, any theory dealing with beings as atomized individuals propagates a capitalist mentality that cannot coincide with community – community being, in my mind, essential to equality and personal fulfillment. I feel she contradicts herself at points as well. She states that, “No objects, spaces or bodies are sacred in themselves, any component can be interfaced with any other if the proper standard, the proper code, can be constructed for processing signals in common language” (302). She seems to go back and forth over this problem of unification and I’m unable to decipher whether she is dealing with cyborgs on an individual or connected basis, as she seems to defy both.

    I appreciate how Haraway describes intersectionality as a central tenant to the cyborg myth, challenging the gendered essentialism that plagues earlier forms of feminism: “There is nothing about being ‘female’ that naturally binds women. There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and social practices” (295). Her proposed solution of “coalition [through] affinity, not identity” (296) does not provide a solution that feels particularly concrete, but it does create a space for the development of the “powerful infidel heteroglossia” (316) she so desires.

    I’m still at a loss as to what this “infidel heteroglossia” is, but the more familiar I become with coding language, the more I feel drawn to the digital as a realm wherein these desires may be able to take shape. Haraway discusses coding and communications sciences as language politics. She states that “Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communications, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentrism [that which privileges masculine and logical discourse]” (312). Obviously language is in a state of perpetual evolution (evidence of which I am sure you have all found while working on your keyword assignments), but the newness of computational language seems to present greater space for the development of radical standards which refuse to adhere to the previous forms of language that have historically perpetuated hierarchies of violence and oppression. The “powerful infidel heteroglossia…[as] a feminist speaking in tongues to strike ear into the circuits of supersavers of the new right” (316) proposes a paradox in desiring and rejecting language that unifies. It refuses absolutist or essentialist terms, and while I understand the risks of exclusion that these adjectives pose, their refusal makes Haraway’s “dream” an impossible thing to define, and thusly, an impossible future to imagine.

    Regardless, I love this piece and am certain that I am a cyborg, though my understanding of what that means changes with every reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jasmine, this is such a thoughtful analysis! I love that you tie ideas of the cyborg to ideas about ecologies of knowledges. I’ll have to think some more about this pairing. I agree that the digital offers us a new realm for desires to take shape… I’m curious what it is that makes you so certain of your cyborg identity 🙂 For me, it has a lot to do with (among other things) how integral the digital is now to both my personal and professional identities.


  5. I had read Donna Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ before, but every time I happen to come across it I find myself overwhelmed by all that there is in it, all the different areas of theory and lived practices that are touched upon and connected between them in the text, and by the way in which this is done (the language keeps being a challenge to me!).
    One thing that has struck me about this piece, and that I continue to really like about it, is how Haraway describes the cyborg as ‘a creature of social reality’ as well as ‘a creature of fiction’, and how these two realms are brought together in her vision – fact / lived experience / material reality, and fiction / myth / illusion / imagination – so that the boundary between them itself is scrutinized, questioned and brought down.
    It is also interesting to notice how incredibly relevant this 1983 essay still is today, when our world of ‘fiction’ is populated by images of cyborgs. I am thinking once more of the TV series Black Mirror, which has already come up in previous discussions (and whose aim seems to be precisely that of drawing connections between fiction and our everyday reality, creating images that play with and bring down the boundaries between the human and the technological). Another interesting example that comes to my mind is the movie Her, directed by Spike Jonze, where we are faced with a similar blurring/questioning of boundaries between the natural and the ‘technological’. Many similar examples proliferate in our world of ‘fiction’, and what I think is especially interesting about them is that in these fictions cyborgs are not presented as alien, science-fiction creatures, but just the opposite: they are often there to mirror our actual everyday reality and to make us see how close and real they are to us. The blurring of boundaries between fact and fiction that Haraway mentions is as visible and perceptible as ever.

    The image of the cyborg is very relevant to hypertexts as well: as Katherine Hayles points out in her article, ‘hypertexts initiate and demand cyborg reading practices’, if only for the fact that an hypertext presupposes a certain type of reader. I have really liked Hayles’ analysis of Patchwork Girl and the way it works through this hypertext, from its ‘patched’, ‘sewn’ structure to the ideas of re-appropriation and transformation that the text and its media literally ‘embody’ – however, I think some of this analysis goes lost without having the possibility of exploring and experiencing Shelley Jackson’s hypertext itself, as a reader (or hyper-reader?). I had come across some hypertexts, including Patchwork Girl, before: what I really liked about them was precisely the experience they offered of complete immersion and disorientation in the medium, through which the text and its content could really be experienced, rather than just ‘read’.

    These are just two links to some hypertexts which might be of interest: (an entire collection of hypertexts – some can be read online and others have to be downloaded) (this is the first version of Geoff Ryman’s novel 253, which later came out as a print book as well, but was actually born as a hypertext – I really recommend reading it, and comparing the print book to the hypertext is very interesting in terms of media-specific analysis!)

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  6. Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” is a very dense and challenging text for a number of different reasons. While reading it, I thought a lot about Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble,” which was published three years after Haraway’s text. I think they both share the will to overcome binary categorizations and the dissatisfaction with the label of “woman,” as it is nothing but an overarching and normative concept that excludes specificities and thus oppresses them in the same way as patriarchal codes suffocate the female Other. I really enjoyed Haraway’s use of the metaphor of the cyborg to articulate the dichotomy Self-Other/ Hegel’s dialectic of master and slave/ the Cartesian opposition between mind and body. By using high-tech culture as a tool, the author defies patriarchal dualisms and stresses the importance of fragmentation, of blurring boundaries, which are crucial to a reconsideration of gender and identity. Indeed, the figure of the cyborg challenges the way we perceive borders and it overturns normative dichotomies, as it embodies the in-between, the hybrid, the nonhuman yet at the same time non-machine. In this way, the notion of wholeness becomes insubstantial, categorizations fall apart and we find ourselves questioning the nature of gender itself (as a categorization). It seems to me that, by puzzling us with her insight on cyborg imagery, Haraway is gently nudging us into both giving up the concept of wholeness and focusing more attentively on the “heteroglossia” of reality.


  7. Thoughts on the Chess/Shaw and McClintock articles:

    Something that stood out to me in the Chess and Shaw piece in particular was the question of dismantling, and how that idea can be approached in regards to not just the issue of female representation in the gaming community, but in the larger communities where female presence is not widely recognized as well. In the article they ask “what might we mean by “dismantle” ridding the world entirely of masculine gaming culture or simply making room for other gaming cultures and increased diversity?” This question got me thinking about the ideas McClintock’s article mentions regarding how the gaming culture is perceived as a “men’s club” despite that not really being the case and also the anonymity she mentions of the online social community. It seems to me that perhaps that anonymity, while a useful function of online, could actually be helping this perception to propagate, as it reinforces the stereotype that these ‘anonymous’ voices are by default male. Perhaps that anonymity has allowed too many people to ignore that there has already been a change in the cultural dynamic, that there are far more female gamers now than three were in the past, and that their voices need to be heard because they are already a part of the culture and the industry, their voices have to matter.

    Going back to the question of what we mean by dismantling these cultural perceptions, I find it striking that change is thought of as a dismantling, because in some sense there has already been change, such as the change that allowed the anonymity of online interactions to occur. Yet that change has not helped and has not dismantled anything. Shaw and Chess did touch on this at the end of their article, and I am inclined to agree with advocating for a shift in recognizing how change to these structures could be seen as adding to them, rather than dismantling. If that can first be accepted, then maybe change will be accepted, even wanted by the majority, rather than being fought for sole by the disempowered minority.

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  8. I’ve been trying to think through the problem of anonymity and the use of pseudonyms online signalled in McClintock’s paper “Serious games and GamerGate: The myth of an online egalitarian utopia” (2015). In her paper, McClintock points to the possibility of online communication laws that call for the mandatory monitoring of online communities and a possible ban of anonymous avatars or pseudonyms. Such bans are based on the evidence that suggests users (men) are more likely to harass other players (women) when protected by the privacy of an avatar that does not give away their IRL identity. Anonymity can also trigger a phenomenon called depersonalization, where “anonymous identities reproduce stereotypic behaviour and reinforce existing inequalities” (McCLintock 3). However, there are studies that point to the value of online anonymity for marginalized groups who wish to experiment with identity or discreetly discuss their sexuality in way they could not do offline (McCLintock 4). So, what are we to do?

    Do we ban anonymous accounts online and destroy the good with the bad, or do we continue to resist male hegemony online with the hope of instilling long-term change. There is obviously a need for more data (e.g. which feminist practices work best when it comes to combating misogyny online?), but, in the interim, perhaps we can turn to Donna Haraway’s concept of the cyborg and think about the possibility of building up a culture in which humans and machines make blurred identities possible, where “cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves” (Haraway 316). If the online-offline division of identity can be rewired in our brains — one which has already greatly shifted with the advent of social media platform like Twitter and Facebook — if it can be pushed further, what would sociality and responsibility online look like then?

    These ideas are half-baked at best, but I look forward to building on them in future posts.


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